Football: Salako pulls Palace out of their torpor: Peterborough briefly trouble First Division leaders before class prevails as Francis towers over Blackpool

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Crystal Palace . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Peterborough United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

VICTORY may not have been achieved last night with quite as much in hand as one would expect from the First Division's top club against bottom, but it was enough for Palace to put a bit of daylight - four points' worth - between themselves and the chasing pack in what remains a wide-open promotion race.

For the best part of an hour it looked as though we were heading for a real upset and if that renowned goal-poacher, Ken Charlery, had been a shade more accurate early on we might have had one. As it was he finished with a brace of goals.

Palace eventually got themselves together long enough to overhaul their opponents with a three-goal burst - which included two controversial ones - in the space of 11 second-half minutes but by the end they were again living dangerously. Alan Smith, their manager, had the face of a loser afterwards.

'It was pitiful,' he said. 'It's a mental not a football thing. They look at the table and think this will be all right. The three points is about the only decent thing you could say about it.'

It was certainly a pitiful start by Palace, who were a goal down after seven minutes. Chris Coleman first stood off Charlery, who then rode his belated tackle to score with a shot off Nigel Martyn. Then, while still blushing a colour as crimson as his shirt, a minute later he tried to shepherd Fred Barber's upfield punt back to his goalkeeper only for the ball to pull up short and be forced into an undignified, sprawling attempt to head it back. Charlery seized upon it and ought not to have stroked it wide of the target. Blame in the Palace defence was next fairly evenly apportioned when they failed to clear a Dan Bradshaw cross which Charlery also had a close look at.

It was 58 minutes before Palace turned their plentiful possession into something more tangible and just in time to appease a crowd growing increasingly restive. Barber must have thought Simon Rodger's free-kick had been safely cleared by his punch, but he did not bargain for a splendidly controlled first-time drive by John Salako.

Peterborough's resistance only caved in when Paul Stewart's vigorous challenge on Barber to a cross from Salako left the goalkeeper at the mercy of Rodger. Grumbles over Stewart had hardly subsided when he stepped back on to the field of play to centre for Chris Armstrong to head the third. Peterborough deserved to have the final word and got it when Charlery volleyed home in the 75th minute.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Shaw, Young, Coleman, Gordon; Salako (Bowry, 83), Newman, Southgate, Rodger; Armstrong, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Ndah, Woodman (gk).

Peterborough United (4-4-2): Barber; Bradshaw, Howarth, Welsh, Spearing (Hackett, 70); Adcock, Greenman, Kruszynski, Brissett; Iorfa (Carter, 70), Charlery. Substitute not used: Kooksey (gk).

Referee: A Gunn (Sussex).

(Photograph omitted)